I have a confession to make. It's embarrassing, but here goes. I picked my career path because of The West Wing. I could say that I got hooked on the whole "going into politics" thing after reading Slate religiously or taking a Constitutional Law seminar during my senior year of college — but I'd be lying. It was Aaron Sorkin's always-witty banter and the incredible ensemble performances of my favorite show.
And, the fact is, I am not alone. I have two friends who both trace their initial desire to go into medicine to watching Grey's Anatomy. For the record: one just took the MCAT and has an incredible research position with a group that's analyzing the allocation of mental health resources among the homeless population in Toronto, and the other is working for a prestigious orthopedic group in Los Angeles. I know someone who swears that Law and Order SVU is why she now works for CASA. Then there's me: I'm freelancing, applying to law school, working as an intern for a State Assembly member, and trying to get on a campaign. Move over CJ Cregg, I'm going to be the new sassy, suit-wearing, smart-as-hell press secretary in town.
So, maybe the fact that fictional characters have truly and deeply shaped the career ambitions of me and my friends isn't actually a bad thing. It's more one of those proverbial "chicken or egg" questions: Did we gravitate towards those shows because we were already interested in the subject matter? Or did the shows make us interested? And, honestly, seeing as we're not doing all that badly in our quests to become Callie Torres, Meredith Grey, Olivia Benson, or Sam Seaborn (because, y'know, gender doesn't have to dictate which fictional character I would like to be, right?) perhaps seeing these idealized versions of our chosen careers is what has led us on the path towards career success.
Yes, these shows have created unrealistic portrayals of incredibly glamorous universes for jobs that, by definition, aren't glamorous. Doctors during residency don't sleep, let alone have as much sex as the characters on Grey's do. They don't save every patient who is nice or nice-looking. White House staffers do not shoot the shit with colleagues while constantly moving, they don't always get to focus on important or interesting policy (someone does have to get those laws regarding disabled parking placards passed), nor do any of them (I'm fairly sure) look like Rob Lowe. Our lives, even if we do achieve the incredible professional success we're shooting for, are not going to look like those shows that, for better or for worse, inspired us. We know that, at least intellectually. We also know that regardless of the dubious start to our career aspirations, what matters is how hard we're willing to work to get there, and that rests squarely on our own shoulders.
And perhaps its those idealized portrayals of these jobs is what allows us to keep trying. We overlook the time spent living at home after graduation and working a minimum wage job, the rejection emails from potential employers, etc. We forget that just because we are college graduates we are not guaranteed, nor do we necessarily deserve, "good jobs". As someone working at a yoga studio with a college degree, I should be aware of this. But, rightly or wrongly, in my head this is still a temporary situation. I am onto bigger and better things. I am not one of those "higher skilled people doing a lower skill job" mentioned in the New York Times. In my own mind I am a future White House staffer. And it is that goal that keeps me motivated.
Who cares what started us down these paths? It's how far we get that's important. And we're determined to get pretty far. Give us a few years. We'll let you know what the real day-to-day of those worlds are like.